Sunday, May 17, 2015

Younger: Age and technology.

When my mother reentered the job market twenty years ago, in her forties- she didn't know how to use a computer. It was up to me to teach her as she was exploring a strange and unfamiliar territory. It wasn't something intuitive and a thing she could figure out on her own as it was for me. We've had a computer in our house since I can remember. First it was the ZX Spectrum borrowed from my uncle's work (that if I remember correctly he didn't know how to do much with either) then the "small" followed by the "big" Atari (130 XE and 1040ST FM) that my brother begged for and got. The PC arrived  at our desk in 1992 or 93. My parents knew it was important, saw my brother's passion and recognized that one day it would pay his bills somehow. It was at a time when some other family members thought it was an expensive toy. They however never had interest in it, how it work and what it did. My mom struggled at first bringing herself up to speed in the new, computerized world, kept a notebook at first with a detailed step by step instructions of how to do things. As an accountant she needed to know all these things. I'd say it was even more of a shock for my dad who was always good with building and fixing things- just never got into the whole computer craze. Today both of my parents use computers at home and at work like it's second nature to them (with the occasional Trojan or malware) have tablets and smartphones, I don't even know how and when that happened-  and you can't not be impressed with the human capacity for learning. Bottom line: There was a generational gap twenty years ago, but those who wanted to stay in the job market needed to bring themselves  up to speed. A new TV show made me revisit these moments with my mom and it really made me question once again if forty today has to mean out of touch like it was back then. Darren Star the producer behind such hits like "Beverly Hills, 90210", "Sex and The City" and "Melrose Place" launched a new show this season, called "Younger" in which a 40-year old woman in order to pursue a career in marketing ends up pretending she's 26. She ends up landing in an unfamiliar world of Twitter and instagram and selfies and hashtags, because apparently nobody wants to hire a 40- year old "has been". The show is silly and fun. Doesn't have much substance and you can tell early on why it's not on an edgier channel like HBO or at least network TV. It's a romanticized comedy. Oddly enough, despite being only 40, the main character doesn't know how to set up a Twitter account (the actress playing her on the other hand, Sutton Foster has a vast Twitter following) and ends up looking it up in a search engine rather than just reading it up on the site. At the same time she's comfortable with using internet on the go and has some web presence - that they end up deleting in one of the first episodes - and a Facebook.  At least they gave her something that makes her seem as if she hasn't lived under a rock for twenty years but it doesn't really add up. They make her "40", not even 40-something, just plain "40" seem like mid 50's, at least. Both of my parents have better computer skills than she does. I have a few years in me before I hit the big 4-0 myself, my older brother already passed that mark and I can't imagine technology not being so prominently featured in our lives.

 I was on Facebook when it was called "TheFacebook" and you needed to be a student to join. I remember my roommate forwarding me the invitation to my UFL account and me sitting on it for a few months thinking, what a silly name, it will never catch on. Ten years ago I was in my mid 20's- and that's when a lot of the services we use today started to pop up. It's funny- because I think Star's perspective on age and technology is wrong. The internet and software became more intuitive. Press here, click there. My brother and his generation actually knew how things work and how to make your computer do things that you need. When I became interested in the internet, the year was 1994? 95? and the big phone bills started to come in my brother's gift to me where handbooks on Java and HTML. He wanted me to know how to do "stuff" too. Today I feel we're just customers of this image culture.  I remember reading a review of "Sex and The City" once summing it up as "a gay man's fantasy of what it's like to be single woman in Manhattan". And I got what the writer meant. The show felt like a fairly tale, the characters seemed silly, naive and eager. More like 16-year old girls than grown up women of esteem and success. That doesn't mean of course that it wasn't occasionally fun to watch. In similar fashion I confess to having "Younger" on my DVR. In similar fashion I think "Younger" is Star's fantasy on what it's like to be a 40-year old woman reentering the work force. Funny thing- had the show been set twenty years in the past I would have agreed with his portrayal. Maybe he's channeling his own experiences or fear of technology, but I feel today you can't escape the latest trends on the internet and they surround you wherever you go. It's much harder to not know who Kim Kardashian is than to start a Twitter account.

As Foster's character (who has a much older roommate but for some reason that's less exotic than her younger coworkers) navigates the world of modern marketing she encounters a never-ending string of cliches. She obviously has to date a free spirited, 26-yearold tattoo artist who moonlights a musician. All her peers at the office are portrayed as 26-year old airheads with no inhibitions or sense of boundaries. We see them for example selling their used underwear online and posing topless while eating lunch. It feels to me like Star has watched one too many episodes of "Girls", another show that believes itself to be smart social commentary on the state of youth. And I'm sure there will be people who will say "Those characters are just like I am" as they do with "Girls"- the award winning HBO show where characters whine, feel sorry for themselves rand are generally lost in life between rounds of  random superficially shocking things like naked table tennis. But- as someone who lived in a college town for over ten years let me tell you a secret- 26-yearolds are not some exotic breed and from my experience they're pretty much like everyone else. And the technology gap is closing- because it's so easy you don't need to know anything about it, but turn it on. And it tied itself to so many other things we do it's hard to ignore. Younger is a fairytale. And it works as mindless entertainment. We really shouldn't overthink it, because it operates on a three-prong premise: The world is crazy, young people are wild and technology is difficult. As I watch I disagree with all free. Darren Star seems to view technology as a threat. It's the thing that renders you out of date and out of touch. I see it as the main thing that can built bridges, pave over barriers and promote inclusion in the XXI. century. That's why when picking the angle my newly formed nonprofit, FDAAF would take to take on wheelchair accessibility and disability perception we decided on modern media and technology. Our first project is an App. We wanted to build something that people of all mobility levels and ages could use to learn and help each other and to me it starts with your phone.

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